“Where do your boys think you are right now?” my counselor asks.
I am surprised by her question, which seems out of left field.
“I told them I had an appointment,” I reply.
It’s vague, I’ll admit, but it’s not a lie.
“What would happen if you told them the truth?” she asks, interrupting the self-justifying thought presently running through my mind.
I know she’s on to something because I feel deeply uncomfortable, and it shows. I rearrange my body on the worn leather sofa, crossing and uncrossing my arms and legs, and glance at the digital clock on the nearby table and then toward the window beyond her right shoulder. Six minutes left in our session—she’s waiting for an answer, and I’m wondering if I can wait her out.
As I watch a robin perch on a tree branch outside, my body and my breathing settle, and I repeat her question in my mind—“What would happen if I told the boys the truth about where I am right now?”
“I don’t want them to worry about me,” I finally respond in a quiet voice, as reluctant tears begin to roll down my cheeks.
She allows for silence before she asks one final question…“What if it is okay for your boys to know that you’re not okay?” she gently inquires.
The way she moves in her chair tells me that our time is at an end. I offer a closemouthed smile and nod my head, as if to affirm that I will think about her question after I go. And I do.
Two months earlier I had begun meeting with this counselor when I realized I wasn’t doing well. My oldest son’s best friend had died by suicide earlier in the year, and the depth of my grief wasn’t subsiding. As someone with a history of depression, I felt the added fear that my ongoing sorrow was a sign that another depressive episode was inevitable.
Each Wednesday afternoon I hurriedly offer my sons an excuse as I slip out the door to go to my appointment. They are distracted, enjoying an after-school snack and television, and before they know it, I have returned home. I pull into the garage and check my face in the rearview mirror for any signs of shed tears; then, I summon a smile to accompany the cheerful greeting I offer them as I enter the house.
It is a routine that is working, so why is my counselor showing curiosity about it? And why does that curiosity feel so disruptive?
I consider her question for several days, which surprisingly prompts me to search my memories for conversations with my own parents during my formative years. Had they talked with my sister and me about their struggles? When big changes loomed, did we discuss them? When my parents were sick, were my questions welcomed, and if so, were they answered? When family members died, did we talk about these losses? Did I go to the funerals? Did I see my parents cry?
These questions surge like water released from a dam, unrestrained, and the scarcity of memories tell me what I need to know—we did not talk about these things. I sit with this revelation, the feelings it evokes, and the emerging connection to my present circumstances. As things become clearer, they become more unsettling. Not only am I afraid to talk to my sons about difficult matters, I am unsure how to do it.
I share my fear and uncertainty with my husband, Tim, which leads us to ponder together how our families of origin handled difficulty and how we might engage differently with the boys as they mature and become young men.
Could this be an opportunity for us to blaze a new path for our family? A way marked by courage, truth-telling, transparency, and care?
I feel a struggle stirring in me as we talk—between hope and fear. Do we have what it will require to engage our sons, and each other, on this journey? Maybe not, but we can learn.
Hope wins out.
A few days later, as we sit around the dinner table, I take a deep breath and say, “Boys, do you know how I have an appointment every Wednesday? I want to tell you that I’ve been seeing a counselor. I’ve been feeling a lot of sadness about Carter’s death, and I needed to talk to someone about it…” I look at the faces across from me—one newly in double digits and the other just fourteen—and see tears welling in the eyes of my oldest son.
“Seth, are you okay?” my husband tenderly asks.
His tears—tears restrained for many months—begin to freely fall, as he names that he has been feeling really sad too. All of our attention turns from my confession toward Seth as we gather around him and care for him in his deep sorrow. It is a sweet, sacred time of connection and care.
The next afternoon, after settling the boys on the sofa with after-school snacks, I kiss each of them on the forehead and say, “I’m off to see my counselor. I’ll be back in an hour.” They look at me and smile before returning their attention to SpongeBob and Patrick.
On the drive to my counselor’s office, I review the events of the past 24 hours in my mind. I suspect that something significant has shifted in our family. Now six years later, I know it’s true. Beginning to walk together with courage, truth-telling, transparency, and care changed our family…then, now, and, hopefully, for generations to come.
Susan Tucker is a lifelong lover of story, and with curiosity and openness, she often explores in her writing the tension that life holds. A former English teacher, Susan loves meaningful use of language, especially when used to stir the soul and whet one’s appetite for more truth, goodness, and beauty. Susan and Tim, her husband of 27 years, are adapting to an empty nest since both of their sons are now away attending college.nbsp